amaryllis

United States

Message to Readers

Just a few more minor changes before submitting it! Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me throughout this process. It's a shame I can't keep your comments when I republish this, but know that they truly are what helped me edit and improve this piece over the past two days to this point.

For all of the new readers, hope this resonated with you and enjoy! If you have any more cc, I would still love to hear it :)

Let Us Write

March 16, 2021

For so many years, through elementary school, middle school, and even high school, we've been taught poetry as haikus and Dr. Seuss, as sonnets and Shakespeare. We are taught syllables and rhymes, metaphors and alliteration, iambic pentameter and line breaks. We have masterful poetry shoved down our throats, glimpse genius and are given a pencil, a notebook, and a packet of poetic torture devices to recreate it.

But how can we, when we've never learned what poetry is? Instead, we are only taught to hate it.

The issue stems from the fact that there isn't a concrete definition for poetry. Poetry is forgiving, and poetry is accepting. If the poet calls a piece poetry, it is poetry. Poetry in itself has no rules, but the poet has the ability to create new challenges for themself.

Thus, teachers cannot contain poetry, nor can they convey the power and possibility of poetry without becoming vague and contradictory. After all, poetry, at its core, is completely subjective.

Being lover of books, I have naturally wheedled my friends to read more in an attempt to share my overflowing adoration for novels. From these experiences, I have found that the main reason people don’t like reading isn't because they don’t like reading. It's because they are reading the wrong books. 

The same goes for poetry. I've only just fallen in love with poetry, and already I've diagnosed the same problem in all of my friends. They weren't reading the poems that enraptured them, that made them look up with wide eyes, stab the page with their fingers, and say “Yes, that’s me!”.

We've been reading the wrong poems. Or perhaps we've just been reading poems.

Having been caught up in the paradox of how to teach poetry, many teachers seem to have given up, expressing that poetry is “too indefinable, and too abstract to teach”. Instead, many teachers, like Margaret B. Ackerman of the University of Tulsa, believe in “teaching poems”.

You know the like. The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost), Mother to Son (Langston Hughes), Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? (Shakespeare). As one of my best friends put it, we are taught poetry as if it is “a dead art”. As a junior in high school, I can attest that I've never been given a poem by a 21st century poet. Up until last year, I didn’t know people still wrote poetry as a legitimate occupation.

The classics are beautiful; I cannot deny them that. But having only changed my opinion on poetry recently, I have to admit that I hated them before having actually tried to write a poem for the sake of writing a poem. We can be taught poems, but it cannot be all that we are taught. We need to be taught why -- not for culture, not for history. How can an elementary school student grasp that? Instead, it can be as simple as what aspiring writer Rebecca Roach proposes: “we invented language, [so] we invented something fun [and] awesome to do with it”.

That’s not to say we can’t learn from poems. As writers, we have to read them to improve. But there's simply no way to learn from or appreciate the classics if we don’t even know what we’re looking for. We need to learn to read like writers.

Lately, I've been enthusiastic to help my peers with all of their dreaded poetry assignments. However, in trying to help them through the process of writing a poem, the most common and frustrating part is that they refuse to even begin writing.

There is so much emphasis, especially in high school, on what’s right, and what’s wrong. What’s good, and what’s bad. There is so much pressure to succeed, so much shame in perceived failure. We are taught in our essays to remove every "I", every trace of our own voices. So, even when we’re older, we already have had this disgusting perception of our own ideas ingrained into us, and the idea that poetry could be subjective is too foreign, irreconcilable with our competitive worldviews.

We can’t continue on like this. By continuing to teach poetry this way, the current education system prevents the millions of students that go through it the chance to experience poetry. To gain it as a coping skill, a form of expression, and a different perspective.

So how are teachers supposed to teach poetry?

Tell us that poetry can be anything. It can be beautiful, it can be funny, it can be utterly disgusting. Tell us that poetry is the power to play with words. 

Give us the chance to write. Let us pen a poem about whatever we want: how we feel about anyone, anywhere, and anything. No prompt, no rhyme, no punctuation or grammar. No rules, just emotions and opinions. Most importantly, tell us it's going to be bad.

Only afterwards can the teachers pull out the dusty classics. But, you can’t just stick to Silverstein, to Shakespeare, to rhyme and rhythm and “thou art” ‘s. Bring out some Billy Collins, Margaret Atwood, and Amanda Gorman. Embolden and inspire us with student examples. Tell us with more than words that poetry is not dead, and that it doesn’t have to rhyme. Show us that it is very much alive.

This also means that teachers have to accept that there is more than one way to interpret a poem. It's okay if a student doesn’t understand a piece. There is no right or wrong on either side. There is no shame. We all write differently, and if we read like writers, this is inevitable. Embrace your students' genius, and share with us your own.

Then, let us write again. And again. And again, and again, and again.

Teach us to learn poetry. Let us love it. We, as students and as people, cannot be deprived of it any longer.
Sources:
- Roach, Rebecca. “6 Reasons Why People Hate Poetry.” Medium, Trubadour, 16 Apr. 2017, medium.com/trubadour-for-poems/6-reasons-why-people-hate-poetry-6155a24be599. 
- Stein, Kevin. "Why Kids Hate Poetry." In Poetry's Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age, 188-203. ANN ARBOR: University of Michigan Press, 2010. Accessed March 15, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv65swqh.15.
- Ackerman, Margaret B. “Why I Don't Teach Poetry.” The English Journal, vol. 57, no. 7, 1968, pp. 999–1001. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/812276. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

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6 Comments
  • AnnaTypeWriter

    Re: Hey there, thanks for your comment! I was quite nervous about the piece and seeing others appreciate it made me smile :)


    about 1 month ago
  • nolongeractive

    This piece is just outstanding as usual!! You are just living talent.


    about 1 month ago
  • happy butterfly

    replying: thank you so much<3 ah power to the swifties


    about 1 month ago
  • sunny.v

    re: you're so sweet!! i just saw you in my prose notifications, so my goodbye is less of a goodbye for you and more of a see you around! thank u for your kind words! and yes that is me in perhappened hahaha sunny v is indeed sunny vuong!


    about 2 months ago
  • _Delphiruns2theocean_

    Re: Np! And thank you! Yes there's lots of drama and plot twists, and glad to hear you can't predict all of it ;)


    about 2 months ago
  • Ava Marie

    I agree with this 100%, and it's beautifully written. I love it!!


    about 2 months ago